What is toxic shock syndrome (TSS)?

Toxic shock syndrome is a rare, but life-threatening bacterial infection caused by staph bacteria. TSS has historically been associated with superabsorbent tampons. TSS cases have declined since many manufacturers have pulled superabsorbent tampons off of the market.

Who is at risk for TSS?

Anybody can get TSS, but menstruating women make up about half of the cases.   The other cases happen in men, children, and postmenopausal women.   Toxic shock syndrome has been associated with:

  • Cuts or burns on the skin
  • Surgical wounds
  • Using contraceptive sponges, superabsorbent tampons, and diaphragms
  • Having viral infections, such as the flu

What are the symptoms of TSS?

Symptoms of TSS include:

  • Sudden, high fever
  • Low blood pressure
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Rash, usually on the hands and feet
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Sore muscles
  • Redness of eyes, mouth, and throat
  • Seizures
  • Headaches

TSS is a medical emergency.   If you experience these symptoms and have recently used a tampon or suffered from a wound, contact your healthcare provider immediately.

What complications are associated with TSS?

TSS progresses rapidly, so it is important to seek medical attention if you are experiencing symptoms. Â  Complications include:

  • Shock
  • Renal failure
  • Death

How is TSS diagnosed?

A doctor may ask for a blood or urine sample to test for Staph bacteria. They may also swab your vagina, cervix, or throat for laboratory analysis.   TSS can affect multiple organs, so they may require a CT scan or chest X-ray to look for damage.   Make sure to tell your doctor about any wounds you have or if you have recently used tampons.

How is TSS treated?

If you have TSS, you will likely be hospitalized.   At the hospital you will be given antibiotics while the doctor tries to find the source of infection.   Medication to stabilize blood pressure may be necessary, as will supportive care for other symptoms. Dialysis may be required if TSS causes kidney failure.   Surgery may be required to remove the infection or drain it.

How can I prevent TSS?

Clean wounds frequently to prevent bacterial infection.

If you use tampons, use the lowest absorbency that you can, and always change them every 4-8 hours. Alternate between tampons and pads, and use liners when your period is light.   Manufacturers in the U.S. no longer use the materials that caused TSS in the past.

For more information on TSS, click here.